Monthly Archives: June 2021

Episode 811 – The New Normal: Distance Learning & Telecommuting

Victoria and Aly talk about how to be more effective when learning and working from home. Social distancing is the thing these days, but how do we keep from going nuts and what are the best practices to stay productive and efficient when working or learning from home. Dealing with the social aspect of isolation. Aly shares some top tips for how to be productive while staying home, including staying engaged and avoiding passivity. The use of rituals of physical, technical and mental preparation in staying efficient at home.

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The Changing Role & Responsibility of Rescues & Shelters

There may have been a time when schools only needed to be charged with teaching students reading, writing and arithmetic. But as society changes schools become responsible for instruction that either used to be provided at home, or represents a new field of study. When I was in high school we had a choice of […]

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Home Remedies for Dog Joint Pain Relief

Identifying and managing chronic joint pain in dogs
Treating Join Pain in Dogs At Home

Canine arthritis cannot be cured, and it’s not always possible to prevent it, especially as your dog ages. There are, however, things you can do at home to help ease or even delay its onset. Weight management, supplements, gentle exercise and regular veterinary care make a difference. Paying attention to subtle signs of canine discomfort and making adjustments to your dog’s home and treatment as needed will help you help your dog.

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Three Secrets to Safe & Effective Exercise for Your Dog

It’s no secret that exercising your dog can lead to a happier and healthier pup – not to mention a quieter house and a happier you. The complication is that exercising your dog takes time and sometimes we struggle to find time to exercise ourselves. However, without safe and effective exercise, your dog can gain weight, risk costly injury, and tear apart the house in response to pent up energy. Consider how you exercise your dog now: perhaps you play tug with your Chihuahua in the living room, jog or play fetch with your active retriever, or ask your senior mixed breed to sit in the kitchen — all of these activities can exercise your dog both physically and mentally. Let’s further explore how you can make the most of your time with your dog while safely and effectively gaining the benefits of exercise.

Here are three secrets to safely and effectively exercising your dog through activities and games that you probably already play.

1. Discuss with your veterinarian

Before beginning any exercise (even training class!), it’s important to get a full health check with your local veterinarian. Let your vet know which activities you are thinking about pursuing, and ask which activities would be most appropriate for your dog’s age, musculoskeletal structure, and preferences. Remember, just like with children, jumping from high places or playing on hard surfaces can be detrimental to joints. Be sure to ask how long the activities should last, how intense they should be, and about any necessary equipment or weather precautions. Just because your dog wants to fetch constantly, doesn’t necessarily mean that this high impact, sustained exercise is healthy. Describe the activity and environment to your vet in detail, and be sure to get clearance before enjoying with your pup.

2. Explore variation

After speaking with your veterinarian about appropriate activities for your dog, plan to vary the types of activities each day. If your veterinarian approved some shorter distance jogs for your pup, perhaps the next day you could spread his food in the backyard as a scavenger hunt. Varying high intensity with low intensity workouts is just as stimulating for your pup, and the variation will keep him engaged. You can also vary exercises within the activity itself. For example, if you frequently throw a ball or disc for your dog until she lies down and pants, consider asking for tricks between different types of throws. By varying distances and body movements you can help your dog regulate her arousal and stay safe.

3. Remember warms up & cool down

Before beginning any activity, it’s important to set up your dog for success. Dogs have the same basic musculoskeletal components as people, and therefore they can sustain similar injuries from rigorous use or clumsy accidents. However, dogs are more athletic compared to humans (even your couch potato probably has a higher VO2max than you!), and they can exert a lot of energy at playtime. It’s important to warm up and cool down your dog’s muscles before use. Consider the type of exercise and what body parts are involved, and plan for a warm up. For example, if you’re about to open the back door for your dog to dash out with his powerful hind legs, take a couple walking laps around the living room first. Ask for a few repetitions of sit and put a treat in front of his nose to lure him in a few circles before opening the door. Much like a short jog, squats, and plyometrics before a sprint, these exercises can help protect your dog’s soft tissue before dashing off. The easiest part is that the same exercises can be performed in reverse for a quick cool down.

Using these three secrets, you can safely and effectively exercise your dog in the same amount of time and help you and your pup enjoy the benefits. Through warms ups/cool downs and varying your dog’s activities you can tire your pup out in no time at all. Talking to your veterinarian about the type, duration, and intensity of activity can also tailor the exercise to your dog and avoid costly injury. 

Many caretakers believe that their dog needs to sprint in order to get tired, when in reality sniffing, training, or a combination can be just as taxing. Check out the table below for more ideas! Challenge yourself this week to change one thing about your dog’s exercise routine, and see if you enjoy a calmer, healthier dog!




Warm up/cool down

Hide a treat/toy in the house

High/low places, obstacles, multiple rooms

Walk laps, sits, crawls

Sniffy walk

Hide treats, change route

Walk laps, sits


Side to side, stop/go, 2 tugs

Jog laps, play bow, weight shift


Short/long distances, walking breaks, sit/down/spin/beg/back

Jog laps, downs, circles


Walk/run, canicross, sniff breaks

Sniff, walk laps, sits



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Sleeping With Your New Puppy

can’t tell you how many times I have heard this confession from an adopter of one of my foster puppies: “I know it’s wrong, but we allowed the puppy to sleep with us last night. I’ve read about how I must crate him. But he was crying! And he seemed so sad. And when we took him in with us he settled down and I finally got some sleep. But what should I do tonight?”

Almost every new puppy owner I counsel has searched the internet’s dog-training sites and emerged with the sternly delivered rule:

“Crate your new 8-week-old puppy at night. You’ll have to get up once or twice to let them out to go to the bathroom, but put them right back in. Ignore them when they cry. They’ll get used to it.” [Editor’s note: No one has ever read that on the WDJ site!]

If you have followed that advice and it’s working beautifully for you . . . fabulous. Happy trails. You can skip reading this.

If, however, this feels wrong to you, or you are dying to soothe your crying puppy, I’m here to give you permission to listen to your gut. Please do create a softer alternative for those first few nights. In fact, here’s the shocking advice I give to clients: If you want to, go ahead and bring that pup into bed with you. It’s what we do at our house, and here’s why.


My family and I have now fostered close to 200 puppies, mostly moms with their litters. I spend countless hours watching the way puppies sleep and I can tell you this: It is never alone. It is in a warm, snuggled, co-breathing, ever-shifting pile of the beings they know and love best. There are puppy sighs, and – as they stretch – the sweetest little groans. Sometimes somebody staggers over for a cooler spot, but an hour later they’re back, burrowing into a nook they create just between their sister’s head and their brother’s butt. It is clearly bliss.

Alas, this can’t last forever, and one day, after two months spent sleeping exactly in this manner, the puppy goes “home” with his new humans. They are kind and responsible, and they are simply trying to follow expert advice when they take that confused puppy and stick him into a crate, alone, for hours, at night, with nothing to distract him. The puppy has nothing to do but miss his (real) family.

Of course he cries.

It’s not the end of the world. Eventually, probably, he will get over it. It might be in an hour, or a week, but eventually – probably – the puppy will sleep alone in the crate without crying (except for those pups who are triggered by their terror in a crate into developing separation anxiety). The “crate them right away” approach works fine for many, and it has its advantages. But there are other, kinder options. 


I love crates and couldn’t do puppyhood without them! That’s why I introduce them slowly, at the pup’s own pace, resulting in a dog who sees the crate as a calm, happy spot. Here are my 7-week-old foster pups seeking out the open crate for their group nap.

At our house, when we have a pup just separated from the litter, we don’t do the alone-in-a-crate-all-night thing. Instead, we do our best to recreate that puppy pile they’re so used to, right in our own bed. We pop that puppy in between us. Soon enough, we are the littermates. After a very confusing first day without the comfort of her original family, you can almost feel the puppy sighing, thinking, “Okay, now this feels right.” 

There is no crying, which means we get lots more sleep. Sure, we wake from time to time when the puppy readjusts, burrows in under an arm, or perhaps licks our face. But seriously? Those moments are delicious. If you are inclined to love that, don’t let that stern internet advice deprive you of one of the sweetest times in the world. Treat yourself, and your puppy, to six hours of easy bonding. You may well find that it advances your daytime interactions too.


A big objection to this approach is that everyone’s sure the puppy will pee or poop in the bed. After all, when folks using a crate take the crying puppy out at 2 a.m., he always pees. They draw the conclusion that the pup was crying because he had to pee. Maybe! But more likely, he was crying because he was sad and lonely – most can easily hold it from 11 p.m. to 5 a.m. 

How do I know? Because we do it all the time. With us, 8-week-old pups sleep soundly for those six hours with no bathroom break, happily snuggled into a family pile. Here’s how to make that happen:

✓ No food after 7 p.m.

✓ No water after 8:30. (Maybe a sip, but no big glugs.)

✓ Commit to a long, frisky play session outside just before bed. Not a quick step outside for a little pee, but a nice, action-filled adventure. (Motion encourages pees and poops!)

When we follow those rules, the puppies do not have to go out in the middle of the night. (The one exception is pups with diarrhea. If your pup doesn’t have a solid stool then this is risky indeed for obvious reasons.)

Mind you, once the pup truly awakens in the morning – more than just the reshuffling for a better spot, but walking around on the bed at 5 a.m. – it’s time to sprint into action. Jump out of bed – this is no time for your own bathroom break! Pick up that puppy and carry him outside quick. Whatever you do, don’t make the puppy walk to the door, because the motion of walking will mean “game over.” Carry the pup to the outdoor potty area and then be ready to reward him for what will naturally and quickly follow! 


Often folks are open to the idea of sleeping with a little puppy, but the idea of sharing the bed forever with a 70-lb grown dog is a hard “No!” They worry that once that barrier is broken, there’s no going back.

Not true. If you’d like, you can create a plan to transition the pup to the crate in a couple of weeks. By then, two incredibly important things will have happened:

1. Your pup will be happy at your house, understanding that you’re her new family.

2. You will have accustomed the pup to her crate with positive sessions during the daytime, so that she’s used to napping alone in there. It’s no longer such a big stretch to do it at night too. To make it easier, move an extra crate next to your bed, start using that every now and then during the day, and then one night – after a particularly adventurous, exhausting day – pop her in to sleep in there at night. 

Perhaps you’re thinking, if she’s going to be sleeping alone in her crate soon, why not just bite the bullet and do it from the get-go? My answer is just … empathy. Surely you remember very sad moments of your life, times filled with fear. Just because they turned out okay later doesn’t mean they weren’t horrible. So why not keep your puppy from having that moment if you possibly can? Just because you know it’s all going to be okay doesn’t mean the puppy does. 


After that first adjustment week, I find a crate absolutely indispensable for daily life with a puppy. And I’m also a big fan of letting a pup experience a slight feeling of discomfort before getting to the other side of a challenge. That builds confidence and resilience. 

But when it comes to the very long night spent alone the exact moment the pup goes through the most shocking transition of her life? That’s one time where I’m going to err on the side of emotional comfort. 

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Dog Toothpaste

The phrase “toothpaste for dogs” sounds like the punchline to a joke – the epitome of a ridiculous product that’s not necessary but is being marketed by an avaricious industry looking to profit by foisting useless gear on unsuspecting dog owners. I’m sure that some comedian somewhere could get a good five minutes of laughs out of the topic. 

The truth is, though, that toothpastes that are formulated for pets are helpful. They improve the mechanical effect of the toothbrush, their abrasive ingredients improve the plaque-removing effect of brushing, and their enzymatic ingredients help reduce the population of bacteria present in a dog’s mouth. 

Why is this so important? To prevent a cascade of ill effects for your dog. Bacterial overgrowth, also referred to as “biofilm,” causes infection and inflammation when it accumulates below the gum line.  Biofilm becomes plaque; plaque promotes the formation of tartar, and both substances give the bacteria more surfaces to cling to and opportunity to proliferate under the gums. And bacteria can not only contribute to bad breath, but also contribute to periodontal disease, which has been linked to severe deleterious effects throughout the body, including the liver, kidney, heart, and lungs. Studies have established a link between canine dental disease and diabetes, “distant neoplasia” (gastrointestinal, kidney, pancreatic, and hematological cancers), chronic inflammation, and early mortality.  

To recap: It’s critically important to help your dog keep his teeth clean!


We’ll start by mentioning that there is an organization – the Veterinary Oral Health Council (VOHC) – that examines any applicable research studies that might prove the effectiveness of various veterinary dental products as they relate to one of two possible claims: “Helps control plaque” and “Helps control tartar.” Interestingly enough, only one pet toothpaste on the market carries one of those claims: Petsmile Professional Pet Toothpaste, which earned the VOHC seal for “Helps control plaque.” That was enough to make this product our favorite, despite the fact that it’s way more expensive than its competitors. 

The one thing that all pet toothpaste manufacturers seem to agree on is that these products should contain an abrasive ingredient. If that sounds alarming, relax: Abrasive ingredients make up at least 50% of human toothpastes! 

Commonly used abrasive ingredients include calcium carbonate, sodium bicarbonate (also known as baking soda), sodium chloride (salt), various forms of silica, and dicalcium phosphate.

Pet toothpaste should have a flavor that’s (at a minimum) not aversive to dogs and (at best) pleasant. It’s generally accepted that most dogs don’t particularly enjoy minty flavors, so you’ll see most pet toothpastes flavored with either an artificial sweetener, an artificial peanut butter, or meat “flavor.” We tasted every toothpaste we included in this review and not one, in our opinion, tasted like either meat or peanut butter. Some were vaguely sweet.

That said, dogs have far fewer taste buds than we do – about 1,700 compared to about 9,000 in humans – so, as long as the toothpaste doesn’t taste bad, perhaps the taste isn’t that important.  

It’s well established that the mechanical action of brushing is the most effective home care that owners can provide to their dogs. But the use of products that contain antimicrobial agents can increase the efficacy of brushing. Antimicrobial agents reduce the bacterial population in the dog’s mouth and reduce the formation of the biofilm which, left undisturbed, would begin to form plaque and, eventually, tartar. 

If your dog resists the brushing process, and you’re able to get only a little antibacterial toothpaste into his mouth, don’t despair. Several studies have indicated that the simple introduction of antimicrobial toothpastes into a dog’s mouth – even without the mechanical brushing action – is more beneficial to the dog than no action being taken at all. 


Here’s a great way to choke, smother, or poison your dog – by using a toothpaste with a foaming agent. Don’t do this!
Photo Credit: Oleksii Stasiuk/

We hope that all dog owners are aware that they shouldn’t use toothpaste that is formulated for humans when they brush their dogs’ teeth. There are a number of ingredients in human toothpaste that are problematic – and even downright toxic – for dogs. Some of the ingredients are no healthier for humans to swallow than dogs, but you can tell humans not to swallow it, and they (usually) won’t. (Children’s toothpastes contain less fluoride than adult toothpaste because they are less able to follow this instruction than adults.)

Almost all human toothpastes contain fluoride, an effective anti-cavity agent, but it’s not in any pet toothpastes, as dogs are particularly sensitive to this agent; it’s considered a major toxin for them. 

Xylitol is a sweetener that’s found in many human toothpastes, but is highly toxic to dogs and is never included in pet toothpaste.

Humans seem to love the foaming action of our toothpastes; it seems to help distribute the cleansing, refreshing agents all around our mouths. But given that we don’t want our dogs to swallow the toothpaste – and they have no way of knowing that, or of rinsing their mouths without swallowing – foaming agents should not be included in a pet toothpaste. 

Sodium lauryl sulfate is the most commonly used foaming agent in human toothpastes. It also offers detergent properties (binds with impurities and helps them be rinsed away) and mild antibacterial properties. However, it can cause gastric upset in dogs – and its foaming action is more trouble than its worth in a dog’s mouth. We found it included in just one of the 10 toothpastes we reviewed (Nylabone Tartar Control Pet Toothpaste; see next page). 

Need Motivation to Break Out the Brush?

I doubt that anyone enjoys brushing their dogs’ teeth; with the most cooperative of dogs, it’s a minor inconvenience, and at worst, a major hassle. But if you need a little motivation to convince you to put this chore on your to-do list, consider these dental-health facts:

✔ People who brush their dogs’ teeth regularly are more likely to notice problems such as tooth fractures or chipped teeth, loose teeth, gum inflammation, or growths in the mouth. Early detection of these problems is essential to successful treatment (especially of oral tumors).  

✔ Reducing the amount of bacterial plaque at and below the gum line of the teeth is critical for preventing the development of gingival inflammation and periodontal disease. Regular brushing has been shown in many studies to be the most effective means of reducing the amount of plaque on dogs’ teeth; it’s considered the gold standard for maintaining dental health. In fact, one (human) study found that professional cleanings were of little value without regular home care (brushing). Multiple studies have shown that bacterial plaque begins to attach to the tooth surfaces again within 24 hours of cleaning. 


We’re not picking any favorites other than the Petsmile product (with its VOHC seal). Use of any of the products will be better than none. We’d recommend trying various products and seeing which ones your dog accepts best. 

That said, if your dog already has a significant tartar accumulation on his teeth, we’d definitely suggest a product with a tartar control agent (see the list of ingredients and what they do on page 21). Otherwise, just buy a pet toothpaste, introduce it to your dog as soon as possible, use it regularly, and monitor the appearance of his teeth and gums as time goes by. We think you’ll be amazed at the improvement you will see with regular use of any product. 


Product Name
Maker Information
Price/Size Ingredients Comments
Arm & Hammer Completecare Enzymatic Toothpaste
(855) 430-8100
$6, 6.2 oz Sorbitol, water, hydrated silica, calcium carbonate, polysorbate 20, tetrasodium pyrophosphate, cellulose gum, sodium chloride, flavor, sodium bicarbonate, zinc gluconate, proteases, thymol Note that Arm & Hammer name is licensed by Fetch 4 Pets; product not actually made by Arm & Hammer. Flavors: Beef, banana mint, chicken, peanut butter, vanilla ginger.
Freshbarks Enzymatic Toothpaste
Phone # not made available
$25, 7 oz (3.5 oz per tube) Glycerine, aloe, pectin, neem oil, grapefruit seed extract, baking soda (sodium bicarbonate), glucose oxidase (enzymes), natural flavors Sold only in a pack of two tubes with a unique two-headed toothbrush. One flavor. We’re not crazy about companies that can be reached only via email and that seem to take pains to hide their business location (in this case, the Netherlands).
Nylabone Tartar Control Pet Toothpaste
(855) 273-7527
$4,2.5 oz Sorbitol, hydrated silica, vegetable glycerin, purified water, ascorbic acid phosphate, sodium hexametaphosphate, magnesium aluminum silicate, sodium lauryl sulfate, titanium dioxide, natural flavor, cellulose gum, tetrasodium pyrophosphate, sodium benzoate, potassium sorbate, sodium copper chlorophyllin Original and peanut butter flavors. We tried the original; we can’t tell you exactly what it tastes like. It’s vaguely sweet and sort of toffee-flavored. “Tartar control” in name is supported by more anti-tartar agents in the ingredients than some of the others.
Nutri-Vet Enzymatic Toothpaste
(877) 729-8668
$3, 2.5 oz. Purified water, sorbitol, glycerin, hydrated silica, dicalcium phosphate, xanthan gum, artificial flavor, sodium saccharin, sodium benzoate, glucose oxidase (Aspergillus niger) The box indicates “Chicken Flavor Paste,” but there is that vague, sweet toffee flavor again. Price seems like a bargain.
Petrodex (Sergeant’s Pet Care) Enzymatic Toothpaste
Website not made available
(800) 224-7387
$9, 6.2 oz Sorbitol, dicalcium phosphate, water, hydrated silica, glycerin, poultry digest, dextrose, xanthan gum, acidified calcium sulfate, disodium phosphate duohydrate, potassium sorbate, citric acid, sodium benzoate, Aspergillus niger fermentation extract Available in peanut butter and poultry flavors. We tried the poultry flavor, which, likely due to an actual poultry-originated ingredient and also its unappealing (to humans) brown color, we didn’t enjoy as much as our test dog did.
Petsmile Professional Pet Toothpaste
(800) 784-7645


$27, 4.5 oz. Water, glycerin, dicalcium phosphate dihydrate, citric acid, Calprox (calcium peroxide), flavor, sodium benzoate, EDTA, cetylpyridinium chloride, carbomer, potassium hydroxide, xanthan gum This is the only product on our list that carries the seal of the Veterinary Oral Health Council for plaque inhibition – that’s actually a big deal (and justifies the high price); it’s been proven to work. Available in “Rotisserie Chicken” and “London Broil” flavors. We tried the latter; it was inoffensive but didn’t taste like steak. The dogs didn’t object.
Vet’s Best Enzymatic Toothpaste
(800) 690-9908
$5.50, 3.5 oz Glycerin, aloe, pectin, neem oil, grapefruit seed extract, sodium bicarbonate (baking soda), glucose oxidase (enzymes), and natural flavors Vet’s Best offers a money-back guarantee if you are not satisfied with the product. This is the most “natural” product included here. Comes in one unspecified flavor; tastes like aloe but also slightly soapy. No objections from the dogs.
Vet’s Preferred Advanced Enzymatic
(855) 270-3578
$13, 3 oz. Water, silica, sorbitol, peanut butter flavor, saccharomyces enzymes, sodium carboxymethyl cellulose, polysorbate 20, xanthan gum, potassium sorbate, sodium benzoate Vet’s Preferred offers a money-back guarantee if you are not satisfied with the product. Available in one flavor: peanut butter. Our test dogs are good sports but we really didn’t like the taste of this.
Virbac C.E.T. Enzymatic Toothpaste
(800) 338-3659
$10, 2.5 oz Sorbitol, purified water, dicalcium phosphate anhydrous, hydrated silica, glycerin, poultry digest, dextrose, xanthan gum, titanium dioxide, sodium benzoate, potassium thiocyanate, glucose oxidase, lactoperoxidase Virbac described this a “dual-enzyme system toothpaste” and it does, in fact, contain multiple antimicrobials. Comes in beef, malt, poultry, seafood, and vanilla mint flavors. We tried the poultry; the dogs liked it.
Waggletooth Dental Toothpaste
(800) 569-8616
$16, 4 oz. Water, glycerin, xanthan gum, peppermint oil, salmon oil, grapefruit seed extract, rosemary oil, thyme oil, dried Bacillus subtils fermentation product, dried Bacillus licheniformis fermentation product, and grape seed extract This product was developed by a dentist (rather than a veterinarian), and it takes a novel approach with the “targeted oral probiotics,” herbal extracts, and essential oils in its formula. One flavor; tastes just like you would imagine a product that contains peppermint and thyme would taste.


The following are ingredients that are commonly found in pet toothpastes. They are listed alongside their mode of action – or purported mode of action – the reason they are presumably included. Not all ingredients used by various manufacturers have proven to perform the tasks for which they were included in this application.

Ingredient Action
Aloe Antibacterial, anti-inflammatory
Ascorbic acid phosphate Biofilm inhibitor
Calcium carbonate Abrasive
Calcium peroxide Whitener
Carbomer Gelling agent
Cellulose gum Thickener, stabilizer
Cetylpyridinium chloride Antiseptic
Dextrose Sweetener
Dicalcium phosphate Abrasive, tartar control agent
EDTA (edathamil) Reduces biofilm
Glucose oxidase Antibacterial, helps break down plaque
Glycerin (also known as glycerine and glycerol) Humectant (retains moisture, keeps product from drying out), improves gel texture
Grapefruit seed extract Antibacterial
Grape seed extract Antibacterial
Hydrated silica Abrasive
Lactoperoxidase Antibacterial
Neem oil Antibacterial
Pectin Thickener, gelling agent
Polysorbate 20 Surfactant (reduces a liquid’s surface tension, thereby increasing its spreading and wetting properties); emulsifier (stabilizer, keeps product from separating)
Poultry digest Flavoring agent
Potassium hydroxide Neutralizes the acidic pH imbalance caused by other chemicals used in toothpaste
Potassium sorbate Preservative
Potassium thiocyanate Reduces gingival inflammation and supragingival plaque
Saccharomyces enzymes Antibacterial
Sodium chloride (salt) Abrasive
Sodium benzoate Preservative
Sodium bicarbonate (baking soda) Abrasive, mild disinfectant, fungicide (may change a dog’s urinary pH)
Sodium carboxymethyl cellulose Stabilizer
Sodium copper chlorophyllin Antimicrobial
Sodium lauryl sulfate Detergent
Sodium saccharin Sweetener
Sorbitol Sweetener, thickener, humectant
Tetrasodium pyrophosphate Tartar control agent
Titanium dioxide White pigment, thickener
Xanthan gum Thickener, stabilizer (keeps ingredients from separating)

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Food For Thought: Canine Obesity

Canine obesity has reached epidemic proportions, and it’s clear that one contributing factor has to do with the close relationship we have with our dogs. 

Dogs play an important role in the lives of many people. They help reduce their humans’ anxiety and stress, and even motivate their owners to exercise. Of course, they are adorable and always willing to listen. It’s been widely observed that many millennials choose to have pets instead of children – and it’s long been a trend that couples get a dog for the first shared family member before making the big parenting commitment. And many empty-nesters fill the void with a dog.

Unfortunately, people might demonstrate their affection by overfeeding their dogs. In the past two decades, there has been a dramatic increase in rates of obesity among the pet population; more than 50% of dogs in the U.S. are either overweight or obese. 

The issues with obesity include a tendency to develop metabolic diseases such as diabetes, increasing insult to aging joints resulting in osteoarthritis, and other health issues related to inflammation. Sadly, this decreases the dogs’ life expectancy. 

As a project for her undergraduate summer internship at Kansas State University, Alyssa Perry, from Prairie View (Texas) A&M University, decided to examine the dog/owner relationship – specifically, the effect of dogs’ behavior on their humans, and whether it might have something to do with overfeeding.

How This Study Came About
Alyssa Perry (with her Australian Shepherd, Roscoe) enjoyed her K-State summer internship from hundreds of miles away.

Last summer, in the heart of the COVID-19 pandemic, a few faculty members at Kansas State University (KSU) were presented with a new educational and research challenge as part of the annual Summer Research Multicultural Fellows Professional Development Series. The task: to engage student interns in research – without bringing them to campus. 

With the help of K-State faculty members, graduate students, research associates, and subscribers of Whole Dog Journal, we were able to launch the first step in a program that has been resting on the shelf for several years – a silver lining to the pandemic. 

Our intern was Alyssa Perry, a Prairie View A&M undergrad. Perry is studying agriculture with an animal-science concentration; after she graduates from Texas A&M, she plans to attend veterinary school and study animal behavior. Perry’s internship project was this: a survey of engaged dog owners that would help us begin to understand how much impact the dog has on food and treat provision as it relates to weight management. 

With involvement from WDJ editor Nancy Kerns, participation from some of WDJ’s subscribers, and a whopping dose of midnight oil, Perry and her academic support team put together a preliminary report in a quick six weeks. 

The KSU team’s involvement didn’t stop there, though; after a year of wrestling with the data, we wanted to share the outcome of this project with WDJ readers. 


While Perry wasn’t able to attend her internship in person due to the COVID-19 restrictions, in a way, she was fortunate: A talented team of academics was unusually available to help her conceive, build, execute, and largely complete a research study. As Perry’s internship advisor (and KSU professor), I recruited and led the team: fellow K-State faculty Dr. Kadri Koppel, graduate students Isabella Alvarenga, Krystina Lema, and Lonnie Hobbs, and research associate Dr. Siim Koppel. 

To address the issue, we created a survey. Through an acquaintanceship with editor Nancy Kerns, I reached out to WDJ’s publisher, asking for access to a sizeable email list of dedicated dog owners to survey. Belvoir Media Group emailed the survey to nearly 20,000 subscribers and 2,342 responded. 

To get at the most meaningful data, we disqualified some of the responses, omitting, for example, responses from people who indicated that they were not involved in their dogs’ feeding, or who had more than four dogs (because we wanted to focus on owners with a more typical number of dogs). 

That left 1,456 qualified responses. These owners were actively involved in feeding their pet, had fewer than four dogs, and their “chosen” dog (if they had more than one dog, they were asked to choose just one to keep in mind when answering the questions) was between the ages of 1 and 10 years old. 

Participants answered 35 questions. Some had to do with the dogs, including their body-condition scores and their behavior before and during meals. Some had to do with the owners, including their background and feeding practices. Finally, some had to do with the interactions and attitudes of the dogs and owners during feeding. 


The majority of the participants (78.6%) were women over 50 years of age. The vast majority of participants described themselves as very attached to their dogs and strongly agreed that being with their dogs brought them comfort, as well as a lot of happiness and pleasure. 

Nearly 40% of dogs were mixed breeds; 25% of the dogs were from 10 breeds. The most common: Golden Retriever, Labrador, German Shepherd, Standard Poodle, Australian Shepherd. Owners reported that 33% of their dogs had an ideal body score, 47% were overweight, and 20% were obese. 

The majority of owners (62%) indicated that their decisions regarding daily food allowance were based on perceptions of their dogs’ body weight; 30% followed the food’s feeding guidelines or their veterinarians’ recommendation. Most (71%) metered their dogs’ daily food by use of a measuring cup, and 12% weighed the dogs’ food on a scale. At the other extreme, 16% did not measure food at all and 1% allowed food access continuously. 

The vast majority (70%) of owners provided treats one to three times per day, but less than a third of dogs received treats “on special occasions.” The primary reasons for giving treats was for rewards or training, with “pampering” or showing/receiving love and affection secondary motives. One-third of owners reported giving table scraps to their dogs. 

The respondents reported that when waiting for the meal, their dogs commonly exhibited behaviors that included gazing or staring, sitting and waiting with excitement, or tail-wagging. The least common behavior was whining or barking. There was a significant correlation between gazing or staring at the owner while waiting for food and the frequency of treats given (see Figure 1). Those suggestive glances are powerful!

These results suggest that most owners are diligent about controlling food amounts for their dog – but they may not be aware that their pets are overweight (recent studies put the number of obese dogs at more than 50% of the population). And the data suggest that dogs may have significant influence in overriding their owners’ self-discipline. The dogs’ behaviors (eye gaze, anticipation, excitement) encourage the owner to provide more treats or table scraps. These added calories accumulate over time. 

Veterinary nutritionists recommend that owners limit treats to no more than 10% of the dog’s daily calories and reduce food portions to account for any treats or table scraps provided. Given the power of persuasion from our pets, this may not be an easy task. 


Our next steps include submitting the full research manuscript for peer review and publication in a scientific journal. Then, we plan to start on another research series, including an intervention study to better understand how we might solve the obesity puzzle and where economics might play a part in the dog owner’s decision-making. 


Greg Aldrich, PhD, is a research professor and the Pet Food Program Coordinator at Kansas State University. He writes a column for Petfood Industry, has authored several textbook chapters regarding pet foods and nutrition, and is a frequent speaker at industry and scientific forums.

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Forget About Stress & Anxiety

POSITIONING THEMSELVES FOR REINFORCEMENT First off, sorry. The title was designed to get your attention. We cannot forget about stress and anxiety but rather than focus on those conditions we assume a dog is experiencing, let’s get down to the business of behavior. It has been important that people have been encouraged to […]

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Meet Prisma

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Prisma has made my life better than I could have ever imagined. She has made me a better “hooman.”


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The Changing Role & Responsibility of Rescues & Shelters

There may have been a time when schools only needed to be charged with teaching students reading, writing and arithmetic. But as society changes schools become responsible for instruction that either used to be provided at home, or represents a new field of study. When I was in high school we had a choice of […]

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